Ardbeg Perpetuum

Maker: Ardbeg, Ardbeg, Islay, Argyll, Scotland, UK (LVMH)20161220_085145.jpg

Region: Islay

ABV: 47.4%

Michigan state minimum: $100

Appearance: Very light gold.

Nose: Grilled peaches, oak, fireplace ash, cigarette smoke (Marlboro-ish), high corn bourbon, peat.

Palate: Full bodied. Butterscotch, peat ash.

Finish: Alcohol, dry chipotle chilis, sherry, fairly short.

Parting words: Is there better way to end 2016 than with a review of a whisky that was released in 2015? Yes, many better ways. I decided to review this anyway, since I picked it up late this year.

Perpetuum was released in 2015 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Ardbeg distillery. Many distilleries in Scotland were “founded” around 200 years ago. This is no coincidence. Beginning in 1816 and culminating in the excise act of 1823, the UK government passed a series of laws creating a level playing field for distillers in Scotland vs those in Ireland and England. Many illegal distillers went straight, refounding their operations and many new distilleries started up.

Perpetuum is a very good whisky. It’s classic Ardbeg: smoky, spicy, but still complex.Problem is, I’m not sure it’s good enough to justify the $20 markup over Uigeadail which is very similar. The well-reviewed and higher ABV Corryvreckan is $10 cheaper, too. So while Perpetuum is very good, it’s not a very good value. Ardbeg Perpetuum is mildly recommended.

New and interesting on the Michigan State Liquor List: January 31, 2016

Barsol_Mosto Verde_2014-07-10_0I love doing tasting notes, but I thought it might be fun and valuable to you, dear reader, to offer a new service. My thought was to list new and interesting items being added to the Michigan state liquor list and offer a few comments of an informational nature on some of them. This is the trial run of such a feature. Please let me know if it is informative or entertaining or both in the comments!

For those who may not know, Michigan, like sixteen other states, is what is called a “control state”. This means that the state government is directly involved with the sale of liquor in some way. This often includes the sale of beer and wine, although not in the case of Michigan. One of the weird quirks of the 21st amendment to the US constitution is that while it repealed national prohibition, it also gave sweeping powers to the states to regulate alcoholic beverages in whatever way they saw fit. Many states like Pennsylvania, Utah, North Carolina and Vermont operate state-owned liquor stores as a result. Others, like Michigan and West Virginia, merely act as the sole wholesaler in the state. Most are somewhere between the two extremes.

As a wholesaler, the state maintains a list of all the spirits available for purchase from itself. This list contains information on the licensed distributor the spirit is available from (these are all private companies), the alcohol content, size of the bottle in ml, how many bottles are in a case, the price the state pays for them, the price to bars, restaurants and retailers and, most importantly to consumers, a minimum price the spirit must be sold for at the retail level (always with a built-in profit for the retailer). Retailers are free to hike prices up as high as they like above the minimum, but many advertise state minimum prices which keeps the prices on most low and middle shelf spirits at or close to the minimum. The price list is readily available on the internet, so it’s easy for costumers to shop around for the best prices, too.

The price book is issued by the state a few times each year with supplemental lists (now called new items lists) published in between price books listing items to be added to or deleted from the price book. Lists of price changes for items are issued as well (I plan to make note of significant price changes in future posts like this). All of them come with a date on which the spirits in question are available for ordering from the state through to distributor. Each price book is issued in PDF and Excel forms. New items lists are only available in PDF.

The January 31, 2016 new items list is here. The LARA website with links to lists in the recent past is here. Caps retained out of laziness but with full names given where the state has abbreviated them. Proof (Michigan lists everything in terms of US proof which= 2 x %ABV), bottle size in ml and retail price are given for each one. I have added notes at the end of each if I think it necessary. Some items are not actually new, but fell off the list for some reason and have been added back or are new bottle sizes for items already on the list. Sometimes an item will be added and removed at the same time. I think this is a way to make corrections, but it’s still puzzling. Bureaucracy works in mysterious ways.

Corn Whiskey

HATFIELD & MCCOY: DRINK OF THE DEVIL 90 proof, 750 ml, $26.20. Made in Gilbert, WV from alleged McCoy family moonshine recipe.

Bourbon

BUFFALO TRACE BOURBON 90, 1000, 34.99. Now available in 1 liter bottles if that kind of thing turns you on.

REBEL YELL REBEL RESERVE 90.6, 50, 1.49. I really thought Rebel Reserve was dead, but I guess not.

YELLOWSTONE SELECT 93, 750, $44.99. Yellowstone, a hallowed old bourbon brand formerly made at the Glenmore distillery in Louisville, has just been rebooted by Luxco. It will be produced at Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Kentucky eventually, but for now it’s sourced whiskey.

Other American whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE GIFTED HORSE 115, 750, $49.96. The latest from Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project, this is 17 y/o UD era Bernheim bourbon blended with 4 y/o MGPI bourbon and 4 y/o MGPI corn whiskey.

Single Malt Scotch

BUNNAHABHAIN-8 YR 86, 750, $20.78. This young Bunna is on here as a correction so I’m not sure how new it actually is, but it does sound interesting.

GLENMORANGIE MILSEAN 92, 750, $99.99. This year’s entry into the private edition range. Finished in re-toasted wine casks. “Milsean” is a Gaelic word meaning “candy” but is also the name of a well-known horse.

SPEYMALT FROM MACALLAN 1998 86, 750, $64.99. From Gordon & MacPhail’s series of vintage Speyside single malt bottlings. This vintage is listed as discontinued on the G & M website, though, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher here.

Irish Whiskey (listed under miscellaneous whiskey)

THE POGUES 80, 750, $33.99 If there’s any band one would trust to pick their own whiskey, it’s The Pogues. From West Cork Distillery. West Cork’s standard blend and 10 y/o single malt are also available in MI, though I don’t remember ever seeing them on a shelf.

THE QUIET MAN TRADITIONAL IRISH, 80, 750, $32.99

THE QUIET MAN-8 YR SINGLE MALT 80, 750, $49.96 Named for the founder’s father and definitely not the cheesy 1952 John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara romance of the same name, The Quiet Man is hitting the US now. It’s a joint project between Ireland’s Niche Drinks (St. Brendan’s Irish Cream) and Luxco (Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks). Word on the street is that these were distilled at Cooley, according to blog friend Bourbon & Banter.

POWERS SIGNATURE RELEASE 92, 750, $44.99 This has been out for a while, but has just now come back to the state. It’s a single pot still release. Curiously, the standard Gold Label Powers has dropped off the list leaving this and the 12 y/o John’s Lane release as the only Powers offerings in the state. Powers is not a big seller in these parts so I’m sure there’s still plenty of Gold Label out there and it will probably come back onto the list at some point.

Brandy (foreign)

BARSOL PISCO SUPREME MOSTO VERDE 82, 750, $42.96 Not a lot of Pisco available in Michigan, so it’s always nice to get another one. Mosto verde (green must) Pisco is distilled from partially fermented must, as opposed to other styles that use fully fermented wine. This results in lower ABV and more grape character. Three other styles of Pisco are available from Barsol in Michigan. Imported by Anchor Distilling.

Gin

JOURNEYMAN BILBERRY BLACK HEARTS BARREL AGED 90, 750, $39.87

Rum

JOURNEYMAN ROAD’S END 114, 750, $54.99. Two barrel-aged non-whiskey spirits from West Michigan’s Journeyman distillery are listed as new, but they’ve both been around a while. Let’s hope this means wider distribution beyond the distillery and Binny’s for both of them.

Tequila/Mezcal

BLUE NECTAR ANEJO FOUNDER’S BL 80.0, 750, $59.99 Founded by a Southfield, MI businessman with the help of former Bacardi master blender Guillermo Garcia-Lay, Blue Nectar is distilled at the Amatitán distillery, which also makes Don Azul.

MAESTRO DOBEL HUMITO 88, 750, $53.99. New smoked silver Tequila from Dobel.

Liqueurs

TEMPUS FUGIT FERNET DEL FRATE ANGELICO 88, 750, $64.99. Imported Fernet bittersTempus Fugit Fernet del Frate Angelico Bottle Shot_2015-02-24_0 from Northern California Absinthe specialists Tempus Fugit (associated with Anchor Distilling). Distilled at the Matter-Luginbühl distillery in Kallnach, Switzerland from an old Italian recipe. Erroneously listed under foreign brandy. TF’s Gran Classico bitters are also available in Michigan.

CELTIC HONEY 60, 750, $19.65. Irish whiskey based liqueur made with Irish honey and Irish botanicals from Castle Brands (Gosling’s, Jefferson’s, Knappogue).

TIJUANA SWEET HEAT 70, 750, $14.96. Tequila based, agave syrup sweetened abomination from Sazerac, the people who brought you Fireball. The concept is the same. Shoot it while shouting “woo!” Also available in 1 liter and 50 ml bottles for your alcohol poisoning pleasure. Erroneously listed under Tequila.

Vodka, etc

LONG ROAD DISTILLERY WENDY PEPPERCORN 101, 750, $34.99. Pink peppercorn flavored vodka from the Grand Rapids based microdistiller. Good for Bloody Marys, probably.

OLE SMOKY MOONSHINE BLUE FLAME 128, 750, $19.99. Ole Smoky’s attempt at a “serious” “moonshine”. Formerly only sold at their distillery in Gatlinburg and their outlet in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Listed under miscellaneous whiskey.

EVERCLEAR ALCOHOL PL 151, 50, $1.49. Even though Everclear has an ABV% that makes it impossible to take on an airplane, you can now pretend you’re drinking yourself to death on one with these nifty, affordable 50 ml bottles. Also great for watching youth sports, long church services or Philadelphia 76ers games.

Images from Anchor Distilling website media section here: http://www.anchordistilling.com/media/

Gordon & Macphail Vine & Table Selection- Coal Ila 8 y/o, cask strength.

Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail, Elgin, Moray, Scotland.2015-12-23-15.16.36.jpg.jpeg

Distiller: Caol Ila, Port Askaig, Argyll, Scotland, UK

Region: Islay

Age: 8 y/o (distilled July 2006, bottled August 2014)

ABV: 58.8%

Price: $65 Exclusive to Vine & Table, Carmel (CAR-muhl), Indiana, USA

Notes: Single cask, natural color, not chill filtered. Aged in a refill sherry hogshead, cask #306213. One of 260 bottles. At cask strength, this whisky was all peat and smoke to me, so I diluted it to around 50% ABV for this review.

Appearance: Medium copper with thin, irregular legs.

Nose: Peat, smoke, black tea, drop of sherry.

Palate: Full bodied and hot. Some tropical fruit and vanilla in the beginning then the burn grows as does smoke, but without a lot of peat.

Finish: Ashy. Fireplace, old ashtray at grandma’s house back in the 1980s when people smoked inside. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon.

Parting words: Diageo’s Caol Ila is best known as a supplier of smoky malt for a myriad of independent bottlers and makers of blended malts. There’s also a 12 y/o distillery bottling that I reviewed here and friend of the blog My Annoying Opinions reviewed here. There was at one time a Distiller’s Edition, but I’m not sure how available that was in the US. In recent years there have also been a number of young, cask strength, independent bottlings like this one making the rounds. Most single malt Scotch doesn’t get bottled at anything less than ten years of age, but smoky malts often do because the smoke is more prominent at a younger age.

If fire is what you crave, this is the malt for you. A belch after drinking this is the closest we humans will come to knowing what it’s like to be a dragon. There’s not much else going on, though. There’s a hint of sweet malt and sherry, but it is hard to find behind the inferno. This Caol Ila is one dimensional, but it is only $65 and at cask strength which makes it more attractive than it might be at a standard proof. A volcano like this is especially good if you enjoy making your own blends at home. I mixed a little bit in with some Craigellachie 13 and some 16 y/o grain whisky and it added a nice extra bit of smoke to both of those.

If you enjoy smoky whisky like I do or if you’re looking for some smoke in your personal blending lab, Vine & Table’s 8 y/o, cask strength Caol Ila from V & T is a good choice. Recommended.

Lagavulin 12, Limited Edition 2012

Maker: Lagavulin, Port Ellen, Islay, Scotland, UK.Lag 12

Region: Islay

ABV: 56.1% (cask strength)

Michigan State Minimum: $120 (I bought it when the price was $90)

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Peat, smoke, dried flowers, alcohol. Softens up a bit with water, but the peat is still front and center.

On the palate: Full bodied and aggressive. Burn, smoke, peat. Sweeter and more balanced with water. Butterscotch candy, fireplace, peat, amaretto.

Finish: campfire smoke, vanilla custard, burn. With water I get hardwood ash, vanilla pudding, and burn.

Parting words: Lagavulin 16 y/o (reviewed here) is still my favorite single malt Scotch, but this one has come very close. It’s not nearly as refined as its older sister but it has a powerful smokiness that rivals Laphroaig or Ardbeg. I’m getting into Malt Imposter territory here, but if Lagavulin were the Clash, the 16 year old would be London Calling and the 12 year old cask strength would be The Clash. The former is more polished and complex, but the latter has an urgency and power that is compelling.

The state minimum price in Michigan unfortunately went up by $30 recently so it is much less of a value than it used to be. Still, it’s a wonderful, delicious whisky worth trying and buying if it fits into your budget. I love and recommend Lagavulin 12 y/o Limited Edition 2012, Cask Strength.

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Maker: Ardbeg, Islay, Scotland, UK (LVMH)Ardbeg_Uigeadail

Region: Islay

Age: NAS

ABV: 54.2% ABV

Appearance: Medium copper with thin, clingy legs.

Nose: Smoldering campfire, cinnamon, peat, citron, old oak.

On the palate: Full bodied and rich. Hardwood ash, caramel, fruit gum, honey.

Finish: Heat, then ash, then more heat with a background of fruit.

Parting words: Uigeadail, named after the loch from  which the distillery draws its water, is the next step up from the 10 year Ardbeg. Most of Ardbeg’s expressions lack age statement, partially because the distillery was shut down for a few years in the 1980s and produced very little in the 1990s, but Uigeadail is clearly older than 10 years, at least on average.

If one loves smoky single malts, there is nothing not to love about Uigeadail. It’s hardy and smoky but with more finesse and balance than its younger stable mate. My only complaint is the price. The Michigan state minimum of $75 is high, especially when compared to its direct competition like Laphaoaig Quarter Cask ($57) and the limited edition Lagavulin 12 y/o cask strength which was also in the $75 range. That said, Uigeadail has more finesse and more power than those two respectively, is non-chillfiltered, natural color and cask strength, all of which are big plusses. While I’d like to see it at a lower price, it’s probably worth what I paid for it. Ardbeg Uigeadail is recommended.

The Botanist

Maker: Bruichladdich, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland, UK

Style: Dry Gin

ABV: 46%

Appearance: Crystal clear

Nose: Vaguely rustic. Juniper, heather, sweet angelica.

On the palate: Full-bodied and well balanced. Dry on first entry, but then skewing sweet. Classic gin botanical notes, but few stand out. Also, as in the nose, a vaguely earthy, rustic taste on the back end, maybe a hint of seaweed and rainy beach.

Finish: Sweet, then dry, then herbal and fruity. Raisins, figs, thyme.

Mixed: Works well in most drinks. Gets the job done in a Tom Collins and a Gin & Tonic. Works fine in a Negroni too, but seems wasted in the above three drinks. In a dry martini it really shines, but go easy on the vermouth. My usual ration is 2:1 gin to vermouth. When using the Botanist, consider something like 4-5:1. It will taste fine the other way, but this gin has so many beautiful nuances, you’ll want to make sure the Botanist is leading all the way.

Parting words: The Botanist is made by Bruichladdich (Brew-kladdy), a (formerly) independent whisky distillery on the isle of Islay in the Hebrides islands in Scotland. It thinks of itself as “progressive”, though the way they make this gin seems more retro than prog. Bu that’s a good thing. In addition to what they call the traditional nine botanicals used in dry British gins, 22 herbs and spices are gathered from around Islay, including some native juniper.

At any rate this is an excellent gin, one of the few I’ve had that I can actually enjoy neat. It is subtle, complex and all around delicious. The Botanist is highly recommended.

Caol Ila 12

This was originally going to be a video review but I did one and it was terrible. So it’s a text review now.

Maker: Caol Ila (cool eye-luh), Port Askaig, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland (Diageo)

Region: Islay

Age: 12 y/o

ABV: 43%

Appearance: pale gold with long persistent legs that break up into clingy little bubbles on the Riedel Single Malt glass.

Nose: Big peat aroma with a faint whiff of smoke. Burnt butter, a bit of lavender, a bit of sea spray, and maybe heather, though I’m never quite sure what heather is supposed to smell like.

On the palate: Full-bodied and buttery. Sweet, creamy butter and wildflower honey, a bit of burn, then the smoke and peat come roaring in on motorcycles like the world’s fattest twins.

Finish: The twins barrel right through the finish. The burn follows close at hand and eventually fades into a sweetness in the cheeks and a tingle on the lips. A bit of tobacco smoke lingers in the throat for a long time afterwards.

Parting words: The name of this distillery, Caol Ila, means “the straights of Islay”, referring to the straight that seperates Islay from Jura to the east. On the Islay continuum, Caol Ila occupies the place between Lagavulin, which it is slightly milder than and Bowmore, which it is peatier and smokier than. It is also often the single malt which is used in “generic” bottlings of Islay malt. It is thoroughly enjoyable at any time of day (although afternoons work best for me) and I highly recommend it.

Lagavulin 16

Maker: Lagavulin, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland (Diageo)

Age: 16 y/o

Region: Islay (“eye-luh” or something like that)

ABV: 43%

Appearance: Old gold with an oddly pinkish hue from some angles. Pearl necklace with itsy-bitsy pearls.

Nose: Alcohol, peat, cigarette smoke, citron, almond extract.

On the palate: Good, fairly heavy body. Complex, but not busy. Sweet and citrusy (lemon and orange) at first, then an intense, smoky burn. Like eating a slice of lemon meringue pie at the counter of a diner next to someone smoking top shelf, unfiltered cigarettes. And maybe a guy who had just finished smoking pot is on the other side.

Finish: big and smoky. Burn with lots of smoke. Still some tobacco notes, but mostly like a campfire an hour or less away from burning out.

Parting Words: When I first opened this bottle, I was taken aback. On first sniff, I thought the was the best single malt Scotch I had ever encountered, at least the best Islay malt. That opinion hasn’t changed, but I’ve been able to overcome my awe and focus on what’s actually going on. Compared to Laphroaig and Ardbeg, Lagavulin is more balanced. Its balance should not be mistaken for mildness, however. Lagavulin will never be mistaken for a Speyside malt.

Review: Ardbeg 10

Maker: Ardbeg, Isle of Islay, Scotland (LVMH)

Region: Islay

Age: 10 y/o

ABV: 46%

Appearance: Light gold. On the glass it is clingy and insistent like an insecure lover.

Nose: Brown butter, peat (but no smoke), weak black tea

On the Palate: Full-bodied, more butter, big peat, white chocolate, but lots of sweet malt too.

Finish: The finish is a monster. Big, hot and aggressive, with the long hidden smoke making its appearance.  As the sweetness fade from the palate the smoke and peat and alcohol erupt from the back of the mouth, swirl around the mouth and engulf the tongue, cheeks and lips in a symphony of fire.

Parting words: This was my first bottle of Ardbeg and I have enjoyed it quite a bit. I remain a Scotch novice, but compared to the other Islay malts I’ve tasted so far, I think I would rank this whiskey in the middle of the pack. Not to say this is a mediocre whisky by any stretch, it’s excellent. But at the same price I think I would prefer something from Laphroaig if I had to choose. Luckily, I don’t have to. The buttery peat of Ardbeg is a nice change of pace from the smoldering hearth of Laphroaig.

I am eager to try some of Ardbeg’s NAS offerings. Any recommendations?

Head to Head : The Last Laph, Laphroaigs 15 & 18

1)   15

2) 18

Color

1) Golden yellow

2) Seems slightly darker, but it could be my imagination.

Nose

1) Mildly peaty, a bit of dry smoke, like smoldering embers.

2) Sweetness, spice, peaty freshness

On the palate

1) Full bodied, a little sweetness, peat, smoke, ash

2) Equally full-bodied, luscious sweetness balanced with a tang of peat and a whiff of smoke

Finish

1) Lingering smoke and peat tempered by a delicate sweetness.  Like smoky Mexican hot chocolate.

2) Sweet caramel chocolate toffee, lingering burn, with a touch of smoke that goes right down my throat and then back up and out of my nose.

Parting Words

Both of these malts are really wonderful. The conventional wisdom in the Scotch world, as in the bourbon world, is that old, discontinued expressions (Laphroaig 15 in this case) are superior to the current offerings. But I liked the 18 better. The shocking thing about it is that, here anyway, the 18 y/o is under $80, something that is unheard of for a single malt of this age and quality. So if you see Laphroaig 15, by all means buy it.  Then buy the 18, and by all means drink it!